Redefining the Field Edge

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $199,351.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Mark Licht
Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans


  • Crop Production: cropping systems
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement

    Proposal abstract:

    Iowa State University's Conservation Learning Group seeks to reevaluate the traditional "field edge," investigating the long-term productivity and profitability of in-field low lying depressional areas. While traditionally planted to agricultural row crops, in the majority of years these marginal areas require significant inputs resulting in only modest crop yields and returns on investment. Can these marginal land areas be taken out of row crop production and transitioned to perennial vegetation to increase the return on investment with fewer acres and less risk? In addition, what benefits can be realized for water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat?

    This hybrid research and demonstration project seeks to work with five farmers to evaluate the feasibility of planting edge-of-field depressional areas to perennial vegetation, investigating the related agronomic, economic, water quality, soil health, and wildlife implications. Further, the project team will conduct an in-depth social science assessment to better understand the attitudes and perceptions of farmers and landowners towards conservation practices and alternatives to traditional grain crops, specifically looking at barriers to adoption and measuring how attitudes change in the five farmers over the course of the project. Project findings will be presented in a comprehensive, engaging, and accessible case study format (including printed publications, infographics, video, and audio components), which will be broadly distributed to farmers, landowners, agricultural and natural resource professionals, and college students via the Conservation Learning Group, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and additional conservation partners across the North Central Region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Participating farmers and users of educational materials will learn how to make informed decisions regarding implementation of land use change through multi-year analysis of in-field productivity and profitability. Learning outcomes include an increased understanding of agronomic, economic, environmental, and wildlife benefits of transitioning small edge-of-field depressional areas out of row crop production. The anticipated action outcome is for high risk, low profitability field areas to be converted from annual row crop production to perennial vegetation, minimizing risk and maximizing farmer profits, while realizing water quality, soil health, and wildlife benefits provided by targeted plantings of diverse perennial vegetation.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.